Monday, September 24, 2012

Burial at Thebes at the Guthrie

If someone had told me that The Burial at Thebes, a 2004 adaptation of Sophocles’Antigone by Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, contained song and dance with sparse orchestration I wouldn’t have known what to think.
After seeing it performed at the Guthrie’s McGuire Proscenium Stage, I’m still not entirely sure what to think.
Does the plot remain true to Sophocles’ original script? Yes. Does it retain some emotional and philosophical power despite the cast’s widely ranging deliveries? Yes. Does it have a serviceable set, lovely costumes and inventive twists on the stereotypical ‘coliseum’ imagery so often seen when ancient plays are performed? Yes.

Stephen Yoakam (Creon) and Ernest Bentley (Haemon) with Joseph Turner (Soldier) and T. Mychael Rambo (Chorus) in the Guthrie Theater's production of The Burial at Thebes.

Despite all the signs that this should have been a solid production, it just doesn’t sit right. Perhaps it was the Boyz II Men-meets-Sophocles vibe that arose at most of the chorus’ stanzas. Something about the Tevye shimmy and soulful beats performed with the ancient dialogues felt highly out of place.
Most of the cast, including Sun Mee Chomet (Antigone), Stephen Yoakam (Creon) and Prentiss Standridge (Ismene), give standard performances. They are adequate but relatively uninspiring.
There were some strong suits, however. The plot, centered on Antigone’s persecution for burying her estranged brother and the tyranny -- and regret -- that escalate after others come to her defense, has more relevance in today’s oversaturated Orwellian world than ever.
There were also some wonderful cameos (Regina Marie Williams as Eurydice, Ansa Akyea as the Messenger and especially Greta Oglesby as Tiresias- she is truly terrifying). And the running time, a blessed hour and a half, leaves you time for a nightcap after the show.
If you’d like to have a chuckle at some otherwise very heavy classical material, see this show. If you like short plays see this show. If you’d rather save your theater visit for something truly inspiring, I recommend waiting for some of the other offerings coming up in the Twin Cities theater circuit soon.